Training builds cultural bridges
Washington, D.C. | June 20, 2012 -- Ask the Rev. Calvin Rich what his congregations have taught him, and he responds with a good natured laugh, "how to milk a cow and butcher a hog." For the 30-something pastor serving the Susquehanna Conference (Former Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference), adaptability is the nature of being multi-cultural. Rev. Rich will be among those attending next month's Facing the Future Clergy Networking Event for pastors in or planning to take cross-racial/cross-cultural (CR/CC) appointments in the United Methodist Church.
Rev. Rich serves an annual conference where the majority of congregations are white, and where nearly half of the churches are in rural areas. This summer he begins his fourth cross-racial cross-cultural appointment and to prepare, is attending the July 26-28 Facing the Future Clergy Networking Event at the Westin BWI Airport near Baltimore, Maryland, sponsored by the General Commission on Religion and Race.
From his childhood, Rich has literally been at home among different cultures. An adopted child whose biological mother was Jamaican and whose biological father was East Indian, Rich was raised between Canada and the U.S., adopted by a black woman and brought up in a white community and white United Methodist congregation. He says growing up as the outsider helped define the type of church leader he wanted to become. "I see the job of a vibrant leader is to build bridges between the cultures all around me. I've found it is my job [as a pastor] to take the time to be intentional about that, building conversation, initiating conversation, even when sometimes the conversation is unexpected or uncomfortable."
"The United Methodist Church has great possibilities as a global church. You could see that at General Conference watching delegates from Africa, Europe and Asia take the mic and take part in discussion about the life of the church. But within the U.S. our United Methodist churches have a lot of work to do in accepting the diversity that surrounds them." Rich says the statements he hears often, "I've never had a black pastor," point to a need for engaging conversations. "First, I tell them I'm Indian and Jamaican, not as a way of distancing myself from a perceived heritage, but to enrich their understanding of who I am as a child of God...small bricks that form a foundation for bridging cultures."
According to registration numbers, the workshops on Leadership Styles in Diverse Cultural Settings, Managing Intercultural Conflict and Key Factors of Healthy Church Leaders at the July event are some of the most popular tracks and support Rich's point that pastors are looking for engaging ways to be in conversation to change attitudes about inclusion and diversity.
Asked what he hopes to get out of the event, Rich says aside from the training and resources, he's looking to expand his network of support, to find people, "I can talk to and safe places where I can learn. And to see what others are doing. To be honest, it's this kind of learning that will help me determine if it is still relevant for me to be in this [denominational] tradition. I'm hoping that by the connections I make, I'll be reassured that this is where I need to be right now."
Registration for Facing the Future Clergy Network event closes on July 5. Click here for the full workshop schedule, registration and presenters.